Sheffield Wednesday: Rain-hit Owls in hands of weather

The waterlogged Hillsborough pitch on Saturday
The waterlogged Hillsborough pitch on Saturday

An improvement in the weather trend after this winter’s storms cannot come soon enough for the Owls.

They face nine more Championship games at home plus at least one more Hillsborough date, the postponed FA Cup tie against Charlton.

The exceptional rainfall of recent weeks has brought the unusual development of one of the Owls’ home games being abandoned, one going ahead only after a pitch inspection, and last Saturday’s fifth-round clash with the Addicks being called off.

The common factor has been waterlogging - and even after last week’s match against Wigan, when there was no surface water, head coach Stuart Gray described the conditions as difficult.

Wednesday can do without the weather and the pitch hampering their efforts to make sure of Championship safety and progress in the cup.

So they will have been scrutinising the forecast ahead of tomorrow’s scheduled clash with Derby and hoping for better times to come in the 11 remaining weeks of the season.

Plus the club are likely to consider what sort of renovation work may be needed on the pitch in the summer.

The Charlton match was one of only five in the league and FA Cup to be called off on Saturday.

On Saturday morning the surface was not even close to being playable despite the groundstaff having worked on it from 7am and covers having been used to try to protect it.

The surface water was not as bad as when the Wigan game in December was abandoned in the 60th minute after an astonishing downpour.

But it was worse than when the Blackpool match on New Year’s Day survived an afternoon pitch inspection.

Cup ref Mark Clattenburg must have known as soon as he emerged from the players’ tunnel just after 10.30am that there was no chance of the game going ahead.

Although the groundstaff were doing their best and forking the surface, water around the roots of the grass was noticeable across a large area, from the centre circle to the South Stand touchline and extending from the edge of one penalty area to the other. They was also a significant puddle in the corner of the pitch between the Kop and the North Stand.

Clattenburg consulted head groundsman Andy Thompson and was on the pitch for around six minutes. He walked off, with a slight shake of the head, to inform Wednesday officials of the verdict and call the FA.

The County Durham official thought about delaying the kick-off until 5pm - but there seemed little prospect of the pitch draining sufficiently in two extra hours, plus the forecast was unkind, and he said he had to take into account the Charlton fans, even if some may have already started their journey.

Clattenburg was happy to give an insight into his decision and was as disappointed as anyone that he had to postpone the match.

“The decision was quite easy. It was quite clear from walking on the pitch that it was severely waterlogged,” he said.

“I took advice from various people in the stadium, including the groundsman, who knows his pitch really well.

“I’ve got the weather forecast and the groundstaff have been working on the pitch since seven o’clock this morning. Four hours and water’s not going anywhere; it must be severely wet underneath.”

He would have been prepared to wait longer if he had felt there was even a 50-50 chance of the match going ahead.

The ref: also said: “I’m very disappointed. I’ve worked all week to referee on Saturday, the same as the players who are ready for a Saturday and it’s an important game. The fifth round of the FA Cup is special.

“For two teams who are fighting against relegation in the Championship, this is a wonderful relief, a special time to get into the quarter-finals.

“As to when it can be rearranged, it’s always tough because there are many games ahead, and European games that won’t allow the game to be played at a certain time.

“It’s disappointing for everybody but when the game’s played we hope it’s going to be a wonderful spectacle.”

Gray met Clattenburg just before the inspection and afterwards the Owls boss was off to Middlewood to supervise a training session that replaced cup football.

While Wednesday were also inactive in the relegation scrap, none of the teams below and just above them won.

The Owls remained 17th and all the positions of the bottom 10 stayed the same.

Charlton may rue Saturday’s postponement even more than the Owls. They are third from bottom and their fixture pile-up is worse than that of all the teams in the bloc above them - a combination of the Addicks’ cup run and their Valley pitch, which is by far the worst that Wednesday have encountered this season, one reason why Gray wants to avoid a fifth-round replay.

Derby will also regret the match-off outcome. They had no scheduled game on Saturday so should have had an opportunity to assess Wednesday and no doubt were hoping they they would suffer through playing a big game only three days before the Rams’ visit.

Connor Wickham did see some action. The striker who remains on the Owls’ wish list played as a 69th sub in Sunderland’s 1-0 Cup win against Southampton.

The goal, a spectacular strike, came from Craig Gardner, elder brother of Gary Gardner, the Owls’ loan signing from Villa, who was in contention for a debut against Charlton.